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Court halts execution of Alabama inmate with dementia
Court Issues | 2018/01/26 15:15
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama inmate whose attorneys argue that dementia has left the 67-year-old unable to remember killing a police officer three decades ago.

Justices issued a stay Thursday night, the same evening that Vernon Madison was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at a southwest Alabama prison. The court delayed the execution to consider whether to further review the case.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a call about a missing child made by Madison's then-girlfriend. Prosecutors have said that Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Madison's attorneys argued that strokes and dementia have left Madison unable to remember killing Schulte or fully understand his looming execution. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why.

"We are thrilled that the court stopped this execution tonight. Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel," attorney Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, said Thursday after the stay was granted.

The Alabama attorney general's office opposed the stay, arguing that a state court has ruled Madison competent and Madison has presented nothing that would reverse the finding.

Judge to pick battlefield for court fight over Manson's body
Court Issues | 2018/01/22 15:15
Corcoran and died in a hospital in Bakersfield.

The legal battle for his body or possessions could land in any of three California counties where those cities are located as friends and purported kin wage a court fight Friday that includes nasty accusations about profiteering off the death of the cult leader.

At least three parties have staked claims to collect Manson's body from the Kern County morgue two months after he died and take control of any assets, which could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of his image and songs he wrote and any other property.

"It's a circus show," said a frustrated Ben Gurecki, one of two pen pals who hold dueling wills allegedly signed by Manson. "It's despicable that I'm still sitting here 60 days later and I can't get my friend cremated."

But first a Los Angeles Superior Court judge must decide which court takes up the separate issues of Manson's remains and his estate.

A Florida man, Jason Freeman, claims he's a grandson and the rightful heir and that the killer left no will. He's been challenged in Los Angeles by Michael Channels, another pen pal and collector of Manson memorabilia, who holds a will bearing what appears to be Manson's signature and names him as executor and sole beneficiary.

Gurecki, who like Channels also sells Manson mementos to fans of so-called murderabilia, has filed a will with the Kern County coroner's office bearing Manson's purported signature. It names Gurecki as executor and leaves everything to his "one living child," Matthew Lentz, a Los Angeles musician. Lentz and Gurecki have yet to file the will in court.

Thai court drops royal insult charges against academic
Court Issues | 2018/01/20 15:14
A Thai military court on Wednesday dropped royal insult charges against an 84-year old historian who questioned whether a Thai king had actually defeated a Burmese adversary in combat on elephant-back over 500 years ago.

Sulak Sivaraksa was charged in October under the draconian lese majeste law that protects the monarchy from libel and defamation. The Bangkok military court had agreed to hear views from historians and experts before it decided to drop the charges for lack of evidence.

Sulak, a veteran academic and proclaimed royalist, said he had petitioned Thailand's new king, Vajiralongkorn, for help in dropping the charges against him.

"I contacted many people for help but no one dared to. So I petitioned the king. If it weren't for His Majesty's grace, this case would not have been dropped," he said.

His case stems from a 2014 university lecture when he told the audience to "not fall prey to propaganda" and questioned whether King Naraesuan had really won the 1593 battle by defeating a Burmese prince in solo combat mounted on a war elephant. The story is one of Thailand's most celebrated historical feats and the date of the combat is marked each year with a military parade on Jan. 18.

Insulting the monarchy is punishable by three to 15 years in prison. The law in writing appears to only protect the king, queen, and heir apparent but in practice the rules are more widely interpreted.

Pennsylvania court throws out congressional boundaries
Court Issues | 2018/01/18 01:14
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's widely criticized congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who alleged the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and setting off a scramble to draw a new map.

In the Democratic-controlled court's decision, the majority said the boundaries "clearly, plainly and palpably" violate the state's constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.

The justices gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

The decision comes amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases, including some that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats cheered the decision to toss out a Republican-drawn map used in three general elections going back to 2012. The map, they say, gave Republicans crucial help in securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5 to 4.

"We won the whole thing," said David Gersch of the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C., which is helping represent the group of registered Democrats who filed the lawsuit last June.

The defendants — top Republican lawmakers — said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court this week to step in and put the decision on hold. The state court's decision lacks clarity, precedent and respect for the constitution and would introduce chaos into the state's congressional races, they said.

The Senate's top Republican lawyer, Drew Crompton, called the timeline to draw new districts "borderline unworkable," but said Republicans will do everything they can to comply.

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